If you grew up reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, then chances are you are familiar with a story titled “Wonderful Sausage.” In the story, a butcher becomes tired of his wife and rather than serving her with divorce papers he devises a devious plot to get rid of her for good. One day he pushes his wife into his sausage maker, seasons her appropriately, and then sells his special sausage off to his customers who can’t seem to get enough. Neither the woman nor the sausage were ever seen again.
While it’s common knowledge that the stories contained in the Scary Stories anthologies are works of fiction, many of these stories were based on urban legends and folktales of years passed. Like the other stories, “Wonderful Sausage” is no exception, but what makes this story unique is that it was based on a real crime that occurred in 1897.
Sausage maker Adolph Luetgert married his second wife, Louise Bicknese, just two short months after his first wife had passed away in January of 1877. The pair remained married for 20 years and during that time had borne four children, but their marriage was not a happy one.
It was no secret that the couple was prone to argue with one another. It was also no secret that the couple had a history of domestic violence and the police had to be called in from time to time. But it wouldn’t be the couple’s standoffish nature towards one another that would ultimately drive Luetgert to murder his wife.
One by one the bills had begun to pile up. Though Luetgert ran a successful sausage factory, known in some circles as “The Sausage King of Chicago,” it simply wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Before long Luetgert had begun to court a wealthy widow and hoped that he could marry her and be free of his financial burdens. There was only one slight problem in that plan, Luetgert had already been legally married to Louise and divorce just wasn’t something that came up in polite society.
Witnesses told police that on the night of May 1, 1897, Luetgert and Louise were seen entering into the sausage factory together. Only Luetgert was seen coming out.
Leutgert was quickly taken into police custody for questioning. According to Leutgert, Louise had been having an affair and had run off with another man. The evidence found at the scene told quite a different story.
Inside the factory’s incinerator pieces of human bone fragments were found alongside burnt sausages. In addition to the bones, police were also able to recover a ring Louise was known to wear and invoices stating that Leutgert had purchased arsenic and potash a day prior to Louise’s disappearance.
With the overwhelming evidence stacked against him, investigators placed Leutgert under arrest. It was no more than 24-hours later that the rumors began to fly. Many locals believed that Leutgert had made his wife into sausages, which he later sold off. There was no evidence to support this story, but that didn’t stop some editors from printing it in the papers to sell a few extra copies.
From what investigators found at the scene, it is believed that Leutgert had poisoned Louise before dissolving her body in a drum of acid. Seeing that the acid had failed to fully dissolve the body as quickly as he would have liked, he then took the rest of her remains and placed them into the incinerator.
Leutgert refused to confess and the case went to trial. The first trial began in August of 1897 and Leutgert was confident that he would win his case. Meanwhile, the rumor mill began reporting sightings of Louise in multiple states, yet none of these alleged sightings could ever be substantiated. The jury failed to reach a unanimous decision and the case went to trial again in January of 1898. This time the jury found Leutgert guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison, where he later died on July 7, 1899.
The sausage murder case was one of the first murder trials to be covered by national media. It was also the first case to use forensic experts in a criminal trial. Over time, the story had become so well-known that it became an urban legend in its own right, giving birth to the story we later knew as “Wonderful Sausage.”